Veronica Mars makes her book debut

In the wake of the Kickstarter-funded film, Rob Thomas's spunky heroine headlines her own mystery novel.

Kristen Bell in the <em>Veronica Mars</em> movie

Kristen Bell in the Veronica Mars movie

<em>Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line</em> by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

SPOILER WARNING: Some plot details of the Veronica Mars film are revealed in this post.

After countless comparisons to literary peers like Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys, the no-longer-teenage private detective Veronica Mars is finally the star of her own mystery novel. When eager fans (myself included) shelled out the bucks on Kickstarter to bring the TV heroine back to life on the bring screen, they had no idea that creator Rob Thomas had plans to continue his Veronica's adventures in book format as well. Along with January's announcement that the CW will produce a digital spinoff series, Thomas has taken his once ratings-plagued TV series and spun it into a small transmedia conglomerate. While there's something thrilling about seeing Kristen Bell's posterized image atop a book cover, Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, struggles to match the innovative tone that made the TV series so special.

Picking up approximately six weeks after the events of the Veronica Mars film that was released earlier this month, the mystery novel picks up on some of the movie's unresolved threads, including the growing sense of class unrest in Veronica's fictional hometown of Neptune, California. In a probably futile attempt to appeal to readers who've never seen the show or its fan-funded spin-off flick, backstory on Ms. Mars as a hard-boiled teen detective turned law student turned twentysomething detective is sprinkled throughout the narrative.

But, as with its cinema sibling, if you haven't spent hours bonding with Veronica, her P.I. dad and her faithful high school buddies, you'll miss out on everything that makes The Thousand Dollar Tan Line unique. This becomes especially true when Veronica's attempt to track down a young woman who's gone missing during spring break reunites her with an important Mars character that hasn't been seen or heard from in years.

So the first volume of this new book series will likely fail to bring new fans into the Veronica Mars fold. Unfortunately, it may also succeed at disappointing some of the faithful. Devotees of Veronica's on-again off-again relationship with bad boy Logan Echolls will be crushed to find that he's almost completely absent, as is his buddy and frequent provider of comic relief, Dick Casablancas. Veronica's always captivating bond with her father, Keith, also misses a lot of its usual pizzazz, as he's still holding a grudge over her decision to return to her old life in Neptune.

It's only when Veronica hangs out with her old high school buddies Wallace and Mac that the book begins to hum with the snappy energy that was so characteristic of the TV show. It doesn't help that we aren't treated with Veronica's uniquely sardonic take on the world. While the show and the film featured a Veronica voice-over that provided her perspective, the novel abandons her first-person viewpoint in favor of a dry, third-person narrative. Veronica's most engaging cases were always riveting because of her close personal connections to them, but The Thousand Dollar Tan Line's missing girl fiasco takes far too long to make that link, keeping it from really clicking.

Perhaps its Thomas's hopes that the Veronica Mars film will rake in enough money to warrant a sequel that keep The Thousand Dollar Tan Line from feeling less like its own entry into the Mars universe and more like a bridge to something larger. Given some of the movie's television-like serialized plotting that left plenty of doors open, the first entry in the Veronica Mars book series does scratch an itch that plenty of Marshmallows are sure to have after the P.I.'s big-screen debut. As with Veronica, that small taste of Neptune was likely not enough for many of her devoted fans. This may not be Ms. Mars at her best, it certainly beats the seven years of silence that preceded it.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is available in bookstores now.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)